Campus Protests Pose Big Question For College Leaders: Deal Or No Deal? (2024)

Higher education leaders are continuing to struggle with the best way to respond to the ongoing outbreak of campus protests and demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Those disruptions, which have sometimes turned violent and resulted in the arrest of thousands, continue to roil colleges and universities across the nation.

Should colleges get tough with the protesters, clear out the sprawling encampments and discipline or even arrest students who’ve occupied and fortified them? Or should administrators wait them out, avoiding confrontations that risk turning violent, particularly after outside law enforcement has been summoned to campus?

A handful of universities have tried a third alternative — striking deals with student protesters that address some of their demands in exchange for ending or curtailing the demonstrations and taking down the encampments.

While such agreements have been characterized as merely a delaying tactic to get through the end of the semester and commencement season, stronger objections have also been leveled by critics who see the deal-making as a capitulation that appeases and rewards lawbreakers and will only serve to embolden protesters in the future.

Some demonstrators have also been unhappy with these agreements, ridiculing them as sellouts and empty promises. Jewish groups have expressed their own concerns, claiming they feel betrayed by pacts they believe are dangerous.


Fallout Dethroned In Amazon Prime Video s Top 10 List By A New Offering
Anya Taylor Joy Messi And More Grace The Cannes Film Festival 2024 Red Carpet
TelevisaUnivision 2024-25 Slate Touts Latino Culture, ViX Growth, Juanpa Zurita, William Levy Deals

Although student demands have taken several forms, one frequent agenda item is a call for colleges to disinvest from companies that have business ties to Israel, particularly those that contribute to or support the military in some way. Other demands have included amnesty for protesters, greater scholarly attention to Gaza and the end of study away programs to certain countries, including Israel.

Among universities reaching agreements with the protesters, a few common themes have emerged during the negotiations. Here’s a summary.

Brown University

Brown University was among the first schools to reach an agreement with demonstrators. On April 30, the understanding was that students would end their encampment and refrain from further actions that violated Brown’s code of conduct through the end of the academic year.

In exchange, Brown signed an agreement in which it committed to inviting five students to meet with five members of the Corporation of Brown University in May to present their arguments to divest Brown’s endowment from "companies that facilitate the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory."

In addition, Brown President Christina Paxson agreed to ask the Advisory Committee on University Resources Management to provide a recommendation on divestment by September. 30, which would be brought to the corporation for a vote at its October 2024 meeting.

Brown also agreed that while the encampment violated a range of policies, and that it would continue to follow its conduct processes related to unauthorized activities, students’ ending of the encampment would be viewed favorably in any disciplinary proceedings.

The agreement also stipulated that reports of bias, harassment or discrimination received during the encampment would continue to be investigated and that if the “university receives new information about any conduct violations related to or following the encampment, students won’t be exempt from conduct proceedings for those violations.”

Read Paxson’s full letter to the campus community.

Northwestern University

At Northwestern University, following days of protests and unsuccessful attempts to break up a campus encampment, school officials reached an agreement with students and faculty that required:

  • immediate removal of tents on the Deering Meadow portion of campus;
  • cessation of nonapproved use of amplified sound;
  • a commitment that all conduct at Deering Meadow and across campus would comply with all university rules and policies. Demonstrations that complied with these restrictions would be allowed to continue at Deering Meadow through June 1.

In exchange, the university committed to several steps, including:

  • publicly condemning the doxing of any community member for engaging in protected speech;
  • re-establishing the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility that would include representation from students, faculty, and staff;
  • answering questions from any internal stakeholder about current and recent university holdings to the best of the school’s knowledge and to the extent legally possible;
  • promoting greater inclusivity by supporting visiting Palestinian faculty and students at risk;
  • providing space and other resources for Middle Eastern and North African/Muslim students;
  • engaging students in a process aimed at ensuring additional support for Jewish and Muslim students.

In an op-ed published in The Chicago Tribune, Northwestern President Michael Schill explained why he chose to negotiate with the protesters. He began by citing his own Jewish heritage and concluded with This resolution — fragile though it might be — was possible because we chose to see our students not as a mob but as young people who were in the process of learning. It was possible because we tried respectful dialogue rather than force. And it was possible because we sought to follow a set of principles, many of which I would argue are core to the tenets of Judaism.”

Not everyone was on board with Schill’s perspective. The American Jewish Committee of Chicago castigated Northwestern for "succumbing to the demands of a mob which has intimidated Jewish students, espoused antisemitic, hate-filled speech, and whose members have celebrated Hamas terrorists."

Other Universities

Several other institutions have reached similar resolutions with protesters to end their encampments. They include the University of Minnesota, Rutgers University, the University of California-Riverside and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Johns Hopkins University pursued negotiations with the protesters for several days before finally reaching a resolution on May 12. “Bringing this situation to a peaceful resolution has been an urgent priority for us since it began almost two weeks ago. Hopkins is deeply committed to free expression, but it has to be done safely and in a manner that respects university rules and norms. We are grateful to the many members of our community—faculty, staff, and students—who helped us navigate this moment," JHU President Ron Daniels said in a statement.

In these agreements, the institutions have not committed to meeting students’ demands for Israel-related disinvestments. But they have agreed to present such requests to their investment advisors or governing boards or to provide more public information about their investments.

Some have also promised to minimize the discipline protesters could face and to provide additional support for Muslim students.

The Jury Is Still Out

Are negotiated settlements with students who’ve occupied, and in some cases vandalized, a campus the wisest tactic for ending this period of college chaos? The jury is still out on that question.

Campus protests are intended to be sufficiently unruly to gain attention and attract supporters. Colleges have learned to live with and then forgive a certain amount of that kind of conflict.

However, on many campuses, the current demonstrations have reached crisis proportions, leaving some students feeling harassed and endangered and disrupting almost every aspect of normal campus life. Protests have gone far beyond riled-up speech and civil disobedience.

Beleaguered administrators have tried almost every tactic — ranging from the use of police force to the voice of diplomacy — to restore order. Whether it’s better to confront the demonstrators or negotiate with them remains a major question, with no clear answer as of yet.

In the short term, deal-making might prove to be an expedient course of action, restoring at least a temporary campus calm. But such concessions pose longer risks, leaving colleges vulnerable to the muddled messages they send to students, uncertainty about what constitutes acceptable conduct and the possibility they will have to face more serious situations to manage in the future.

Campus Protests Pose Big Question For College Leaders: Deal Or No Deal? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Pres. Carey Rath

Last Updated:

Views: 6128

Rating: 4 / 5 (41 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Pres. Carey Rath

Birthday: 1997-03-06

Address: 14955 Ledner Trail, East Rodrickfort, NE 85127-8369

Phone: +18682428114917

Job: National Technology Representative

Hobby: Sand art, Drama, Web surfing, Cycling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Leather crafting, Creative writing

Introduction: My name is Pres. Carey Rath, I am a faithful, funny, vast, joyous, lively, brave, glamorous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.